Senators want progress report on real property disposal efforts

Thursday - 7/7/2011, 5:33pm EDT

By Courtney Thompson
Federal News Radio

Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have sent a letter to agencies requesting they report progress on their real property disposal efforts by July 25, 2011. Letters went to the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, and Veteran Affairs, as well as the General Services Administration.

In a letter to Tom Vilsack, the secretary of Agriculture, the senators said that by disposing of unneeded buildings, reducing maintenance costs, and consolidating and re-aligning existing space, "we can save taxpayer dollars and make government work better for everyone."

The requests are part of ongoing property reform efforts that began when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) placed real property management programs on its "high risk" list in 2003. Federal asset management is one of the issues that falls under the purview of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, which Carper chairs and Portman sits on as well.

"Looking ahead, it is critical that federal agencies begin to adopt creative strategies to address leading edge workplace practices that will not only achieve increased levels of productivity, but also decrease the need for real property assets," the senators said in the letter.

Agencies reported using more than $1.7 billion annually to operate 14,000 excess and 45,000 underutilized buildings in 2009, according to the letter. The senators said holding on to excess facilities takes significant costs for operation, maintenance, and security.

The senators acknowledged that progress has been made in this area under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Obama issued a memorandum in June 2010 calling for agencies to reduce excess real estate and save $3 billion dollars by the end of fiscal year 2012.

"Even with this progress, however, problems related to unneeded property and leasing persist," the senators said.

In a subcommittee hearing last month, OMB Controller Danny Werfel suggested consolidating some agency sites and closing field offices where possible to reduce costs. Werfel also said that the government could no longer operate using the costly real property inventory of 60 years ago.

In the letter to agencies, the senators also took issue with the amount of space being leased by federal agencies. The Federal Real Property Profile showed agencies had leased almost 635 million square feet of building space with a total of $8.1 billion in operational fees in fiscal year 2009.

"While leasing may be economically advantageous in meeting temporary or short-term space needs, building ownership has been proven to be more cost effective in meeting long-term space needs in most instances," Carper and Portman said.

The senators asked agencies to describe their property and management efforts within the last five years, including the number of excess and underutilized properties currently owned, disposed of, and leased. They also asked for information on the strategies agencies are using to reduce real property costs.

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Courtney Thompson is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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